Starting in 2009, a musician working under the name How ToDress Well began releasing music through his website. Little was known about this guy at the time other than the fact that he had a knack for Quiet Storm-type R&B jams, a general disinterest in recording fidelity and a pretty bleak world view. He’s now a known quantity, a gent by the name of Tom Krell who resides in Chicago or Brooklyn or Cologne depending on what you read, and his second LP Total Loss feels like a coming out party. His 2010 debut Love Remains hid behind a layer of sonic muck, and while much of that has been cleaned up here, you’ll find that Krell is no less damaged and his outlook is filled with just as much despair.
Total Loss starts with the hammer blow of ‘When I Was In Trouble,’ addressed to Krell’s mom and a song that powerfully transcends the simple ambient flow that accompanies Krell’s voice. The dark R&B that became HTDW’s M.O. returns on the second track ‘Cold Nites,’ which sounds like an outtake from Justin Timberlake’s FutureSex/LoveSounds.
Proving that he’s not going to be labeled a one trick pony Krell displays an impressive range of sounds, going beyond the distorted R&B palette that brought him critical acclaim. Whether it’s the piano-fueled dream pop of ‘Say My Name Or Say Whatever,’ the orchestral sway of ‘World I Need You, Won’t Be Without You (Proem)’ (which recalls last year’s Just Once EP), or the plink-plink of a harp on ‘Talking To You’ the HTDW aesthetic has been expanded to excellent effect.
Never fear though, there’s a good deal of deep jams to be had as well. ‘Running Back,’ ‘& It Was U,’ ‘How Many,’ and ‘Ocean Floor For Everything’ are sure to take the listener back to a time when R. Kelly was just beginning his rise to the top.
On ‘Say My Name Or Say Whatever’ Krell uses the words of a homeless teen from the 1984 documentary Streetwise, in which the kid, speaking of flight, opines, ‘The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world’. Krell has crashed back down to Earth with spectacular beauty on Total Loss, one of the most emotionally powerful records you’re likely to come across this year.